The late WWE Hall of Famer Dusty Rhodes was a genius. In the ring or with a mic in hand, he was a pure entertainer. He meant so much to the working-class people who sat down to watch television and saw one of their own staring back at them. He was more than just an athlete or an entertainer, he was living proof that “The American Dream” was real. But as a booker, backstage agent, producer, well behind the scenes, Dusty Rhodes created some iconic matches or PPVs concepts. He is the man behind the WarGames match, the Crockett Cup, Starrcade PPV, and the NWA then WCW’s The Great American Bash PPV.
As Dusty Rhodes is one of the father-founders of NXT, it came as no surprise last week when the Yellow Brand announced they would revive the PPV concept the next two weeks. “The proud sports-entertainment tradition is back, this time under the black-and-gold banner. Dating back to 1985, the event was rekindled in the aughts and now returns once more with NXT’s top Superstars looking to leave their mark on its storied history, “said WWE. Before you are able to watch the revived version of the PPV, let’s take a look at the history of The Great American Bash and its most iconic matches.
The NWA time
The Great American Bash has always been a June/July concept designed to celebrate USA’s Independence Day. NWA did it as a live event as part of a tour during the July month from 1985 to 1987. It became a PPV in 1988 and remained as until 1990.
The inaugural Great American Bash took place on July 6, 1985, at the American Legion Memorial Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina. The event included a one-hour live concert performance by David Allan Coe. Dusty Rhodes main-evented the show in a Steel Cage match against NWA World Television Champions Tully Blanchard. As a result of Dusty Rhodes winning the match, Tully Blanchard’s valet, Baby Doll was forced to be Dusty Rhodes’ valet for 30 days.
Jim Crockett Promotions used “The Great American Bash” as the name for a tour that had several pay-per-view calibres shows around the country, so in 1986, there were 13 Great American Bashes. The ones to retain are the July 5 and July 26 shows, where Ric Flair defeated Ricky Morton to retain the NWA World Heavyweight Championship and then Rhodes defeating Flair for the same title. In 1987, The Great American Bash was again a tour but three shows were aired on TV, July 4, 18 and 31 ones. It shows the first use of the WarGames match conceived by Dusty Rhodes.
The first three years, the main event of each show was a Steel Cage match but The Great American Bash was at that time a land of stipulation matches. A Dog Collar match in 1985 between Jimmy Valiant and Paul Jones, an Indian Strap match in 1986 (that year was very prolific in stipulations, like a Bunkhouse, Russian Chain or Loaded Glove on a Pole match), or a “Lights-out” Barbed Wire Ladder match for $100,000 in 1987.
When the event became a WCW and NWA event in 1988 after Jim Crockett Promotions were bought by WCW, The Great American Bash took a different dimension as the mix of the NWA and WCW rosters allowed new wrestlers and new storylines to enter the game. Sting’s legacy began at that time. He competed against The Great Muta for the NWA World Television Championship in the 1989 edition and against Ric Flair in 1990 in the main event of the show, winning his first NWA World Heavyweight Champion.
At that time, Sting hadn’t been a World Champion while Flair was the dominant figure in the company. There were a bunch of guys outside the ring supporting Sting to prevent the Four Horsemen from interfering. The atmosphere for the match was incredible. Flair was such a great champion that it was hard for anybody to beat him whether it was due to his friends interfering or because he always found ways to retain. This time, though, Sting was able to get the win because his buddies took care of the Horsemen trying to interfere. Once the bell rang, the fans went crazy in one of the loudest ovations in wrestling’s history.
The WCW era
Between 1991 and 2000, excepting 1993 and 1994, The Great American Bash had been the PPV of the summer. The 1991 show was a complex one as the originally scheduled card of the event was heavily changed. Ric Flair was scheduled to defend the WCW World Heavyweight Championship against Lex Luger in a Steel Cage match but Flair quit before the event and was replaced by Barry Windham. Luger defeated Windham to win his first World Championship. The final bout of the show was a handicap steel cage match, in which Rick Steiner defeated Arn Anderson and Paul E. Dangerously, better known now as Paul Heyman.
The 1992 edition was way more interesting. The event featured a tag team tournament for the newly created NWA World Tag Team Championship. Miracle Violence Connection defeated a young Dustin Rhodes and Barry Windham in the finals to win the tournament and to be crowned the first champions. From this point onwards, the WCW and NWA World Tag Team Championships were considered to be unified and were defended together by Miracle Violence Connection and subsequent champions until WCW withdrew from the NWA in 1993. Aside from the tag team tournament, the WCW World Heavyweight Championship was also defended at the event. Sting defended the title against Big Van Vader. Vader defeated Sting to win the title.
Sting was the top babyface for a number of years while Vader was a heel on the rise that was managed by the great Harley Race. Sting was the WCW World Champion that had to try to slow down the 400-pounder Vader, who looked as intimidating as any wrestlers we’ve ever seen. There was a great story in the match as Vader dominated the action, but Sting kept coming back. The fans reacted to every Sting come back because they wanted their hero to beat this monster. Sting’s comeback was impressive, but then he made a mistake. A turning point happened near the end of the match as Sting hit the ring post and he came up bleeding. After 17 minutes of action, a bloody Sting just couldn’t take it anymore. Vader nailed him with a Powerbomb and that was enough to give Vader his first World Title.
The Great American Bash returned in 1995 for the first time in nearly three years. The year before, “Macho Man” Randy Savage and Hulk Hogan, two of the most important WWF Superstars, signed with WCW, reshuffling the cards. Ric Flair and Savage main-evented the show but the card was rich of new and interesting talents like Harlem Heat, William Regal, Brian Pillman or Diamond Dallas Page.
If the 1997 to 2000 editions were widely rolling around the nWo vs the rest of WCW, the 1996 one was probably one the best. The WCW Cruiserweight title was created earlier that year. Rey Mysterio Jr. made his debut with WCW that night against the reigning and defending Champion Dean Malenko. Mysterio was only 21 years old at the time and already amazing. There wasn’t any kind of story going into the match, just a way for WCW to introduce Mysterio to the audience. Malenko is one of the greatest technical wrestlers ever, so this match was a nice counter of styles. Seeing Mysterio do things like a springboard somersault plancha was unheard of in 1996. Malenko ended up winning the match after 18 minutes with a Powerbomb. This match probably helped WCW’s cruiserweight division take off. Both of these guys were a big reason for that.
The 1996 event also featured one of the most intense brawls in the history of WCW as the evil Kevin Sullivan took on Benoit, who was a young babyface upstart at this point in his career. They had a very personal rivalry at the time, so having a wild Falls Count Anywhere match was perfect for them. At one point in the match, they brawled into the bathroom, which led to fans spilling into the bathroom to get a closer look of the wrestlers. Dusty Rhodes on commentary noticed: “There’s a lady in the men’s bathroom!” Eventually, the match went back to ringside and Benoit won after a superplex off a table that was on the top rope.
The WWE Way
After the purchase of WCW by WWF in 2001, none of their pay-per-view event names was seen again until The Great American Bash returned under WWE in 2004. The event was made exclusive to the SmackDown brand. After three years of being produced as a brand-exclusive event, The Great American Bash 2006 was the final Great American Bash event that was brand-exclusive, as WWE announced that PPV events from then on would feature all three brands of WWE. The 2009 event was rebranded as The Bash.
Of the 2004 issue, we could retain JBL vs Eddie Guerrero in a Texas Bullrope match for the WWE Championship. This match was a rematch of their bloody brawl at Judgment Day 2004 where Eddie retained via DQ. That led to this rematch in a Texas Bullrope Match. The psychology was great with JBL doing everything he could to avoid losing and Guerrero kept showing that babyface heart that made us love him so much. A Texas Bullrope match isn’t easy, but they managed to make it very entertaining. There was a very creative finish where it looked like Guerrero was about to win, but instead, JBL managed to touch the four corners in succession and he won the WWE Title in a fluke finish.
The 2007 issue saw John Cena compete against Bobby Lashley for the WWE title. When you have a babyface match between two younger, powerful wrestlers that aren’t known for always having the best matches, there’s a risk that the match is not going to be good. However, when John Cena defended the WWE Title against Bobby Lashley, they surprisingly had a great match. There wasn’t a nice build to the match. It was more about having two guys face off in what was a match that you weren’t going to see too often since they were both good guys. The first half of the match was pretty boring, but once they picked up the pace it got really good. There were some great near falls towards the end as well as feats of strength like when Lashley fought out of the STFU submission hold. That rope break received a huge ovation from the crowd. When Lashley hit a Spear, people thought that was it, but it wasn’t. Cena retained the WWE Title following a FU (Attitude Adjustment) off the top rope and that ended a hard-hitting 15-minute battle.
The Bash main-event was a Three Stages of Hell match for the WWE Championship between Randy Orton and Triple H. In the first match, a singles match, Triple H was disqualified after hitting Orton with a chair, giving Orton the first victory. The next match was a Falls Count anywhere match, which Triple H won after attacking Orton with the chair and a Pedigree outside the ring. The final match was the stretcher match. Triple H tried to end the match early by wheeling the champion over the yellow line on the stage that signified the end of the match only to have Orton slide off, leading to a brawl between the two on the stage. Orton performed a DDT off the stretcher onto the entrance ramp on Triple H. The fight went back up to the stage with Triple H delivering a Pedigree, followed by loading the stretcher with Orton until Orton’s two protégés, Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase, interfered, preventing Triple H from winning by distracting him to have Orton attack him, put him on the stretcher, and wheel him across the finishing line to win the match. After the match, when Orton was celebrating his victory, Triple H attacked Orton with his sledgehammer.
The NXT Revival
On the June 24, 2020, edition of NXT, WWE announced that an eighth Great American Bash would take place as a two-week event during the July 1 and July 8 episodes of WWE NXT. One scheduled match for July 8 will be a Winner Takes All match between Adam Cole and Keith Lee for the NXT Championship and NXT North American Championship.
Three matchups are already set for July 1st as well, including NXT’s first-ever Strap Match taking place between Dexter Lumis and Roderick Strong. Mia Yim, Tegan Nox, Candice LeRae and Dakota Kai will collide in an Elimination Match to determine the No. 1 Contender to NXT Women’s Champion Io Shirai, while Rhea Ripley will face Aliyah and Robert Stone in a Handicap Match where The Nightmare has agreed to join The Robert Stone Brand if she loses. WWE Women’s Tag Team Champion Sasha Banks will face off NXT Women’s Champion Io Shirai in a non-title match. Earlier this Sunday, Oney Lorcan made it very clear he wanted a match against fellow NXT star Timothy Thatcher, William Regal immediately signed the match.
NXT has been an excellent medium to revive the good old PPV concepts and stipulations of wrestling history, mostly Dusty Rhodes’ ones. After WarGames and In Your House, the Yellow brand will make history once again, looking at the past to create and promote a future made of a rock-solid roster, strong storylines and unique action.
All pics and videos courtesy of WWE and Mid-Atlantic Gateway